ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Opening the Kansas Music Review magazine last month, Marcia Brubaker discovered she was given a prestigious award among fellow music teachers in the state.
The Goessel Elementary School music instructor has been named the outstanding elementary music educator for the South Central District of the Kansas Music Educators Association.
“I’m not a person who necessarily draws attention to myself,” Brubaker said about her reaction to finding her name in the magazine. “But I’m very pleased, because it’s good to have someone recognize what you can do and to say, ‘This is a person worthy of being recognized.’ That’s worth a lot, especially among your peers.”
The South Central District of KMEA includes cities in Marion County, but also extends into larger cities, such as McPherson, Newton, Hutchinson and Wichita.
Six districts exist in the state, and officers annually honor three educators-at the elementary, middle school and high school level-from each district.
One among them will be chosen the Kansas Outstanding Music Educator of the year, which will be announced at a KMEA in-service workshop the last weekend in February.
Regardless of the outcome at that level, staff and students in the Goessel district know Brubaker is a winner.
“I consider her to be a major part of making the Goessel bands and choirs renown for their musical excellence,” said Bud Meisel, director of bands.
Praising Brubaker in a recent e-mail to staff, GES principal and Goessel superintendent John Fast said, “Those of us who know Marcia, know that she brings a great deal of energy, dedication and knowledge to her position.”
Brubaker’s musical background began with piano lessons at age 7 and continued with lessons through college.
Growing up on a farm near Lehigh, she went through the Hillsboro school system and graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1979. She earned a degree in music education from Tabor College in 1983, graduating with a grade-point-average of 3.94.
Brubaker chose music education because she liked working with children and enjoyed music.
“I wanted to learn more about that-so it seemed natural to put education and music together,” she said.
Husband Karl is business manager at Hesston College. After 20 years of marriage, the couple have three children: Amy, 13, Neal, 12, and Erin, 7.
From 1983 to 1990, Brubaker was the vocal music teacher in Goessel for grades kindergarten through 12.
“Then I took a break to be a mom,” Brubaker said. “I came back in 2000, and have been teaching now for the last four years.”
In addition to teaching music to kindergarten through third grades, she is the accompanist for the junior and senior high choirs as well as for soloists and musicals.
At Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church near Goessel, she is the Chancel Choir accompanist, assistant director and is involved with two major music programs a year.
Meisel, who is president of the KMEA South Central District, said he nominated Brubaker “because of my observations of her teaching elementary students and hearing the results of her teaching at the programs and concerts that I’ve attended in Goessel.”
The nomination procedure included extensive paperwork filled out by both Meisel and Brubaker.
“I needed a letter from a peer, Greg Bontrager, who is the vocal music instructor for grades four through 12,” Brubaker said.
“I also needed a letter from an administrator, which was Mr. Fast and a letter from a parent.”
She submitted the letters, her resume and her philosophy of teaching to the district for consideration.
The most important thing at the elementary level is to teach young children how to sing, Brubaker said.
“A lot of children don’t come into a classroom knowing how to use their singing voice, so that’s my job, and that’s where it gets fun. Our voice is an instrument we carry with us wherever we go, throughout our life, and it’s important to express that.”
Brubaker said she also strives to teach the basic mechanics of music.
“I want my students to have fun, but also to realize it takes work to get to wherever we want to go,” she said. “It doesn’t just happen. To be good at music, you have to work hard at it, but you can have fun along the way.”
A candidate for the KMEA award must have at least 10 years of teaching experience, be a member of KMEA and be involved in a music program that demonstrates a level of improvement or consistency over the years.
“I try to be the kind of teacher who says, ‘I don’t know everything yet,'” Brubaker said. “And I still want to learn better ways to give my students information and have them learn. If I can keep learning, I can keep being fresh and new.”
To her students, she’s known as Mrs. B. “When I was first married, Brubaker was just hard for kids to say, and so I’ve always been known as Mrs. B,” she said. “It’s even fun to be downtown and have grown-ups say, ‘Hey, Mrs. B. How are you doing?'”
Current and former students know that performing solos in her classroom is a normal routine beginning in kindergarten.
“We have short little solos,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable with that. It’s just part of what we do. We speak in class, why can’t we sing in class?”
Among the rewards of her job as music instructor, Brubaker said the most fulfilling is working with a group of disparate children at the beginning of the school year and seeing them grow as a cohesive unit.
“They come in, bicker and don’t get along,” Brubaker said. “But you get them involved in what’s happening in the music classroom, and that all kind of changes. I hope that changes them for the rest of the day and for the rest of their lives, too.”
Life does not exist in a vacuum, and so often those who earn awards give credit to those around them. “There are people all along the way,” Brubaker said.
“I have to go way back and credit my parents and my family for encouraging me and helping me. I had great teachers, especially in high school and college, who were extremely supportive.
“I think that a good environment like we have here at Goessel helps to breed good things for a lot of people. They see the value of music for the whole picture of education as well as how it might relate to what they’re doing in the classroom.
“I love being here,” she said. “I am so lucky. I love what I do, but I get to do what I love. And they pay me for it. Not everybody has that privilege. It’s nice.”